Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 80)




  60. Can I just seek a point of clarification. When you are talking about the use of the £64 million, do I get the impression that you are going to ask specialist recyclers to actually do the dismantling and run the process that you described a moment ago of recycling the fridges? You are not suggesting that the £64 million is going to be spent by local authorities setting up lots of plants to do this job, are you?
  (Cllr Twitchen) No. The local authorities will not do it, it will be the waste industry that does it and we will buy in the services.

Mr Mitchell

  61. This scheme that Dixons have proposed which is that local authorities should bid for lead authority status in their region and the lead authority would take up the responsibility for the reprocessing, what is your view of this proposal?
  (Cllr Twitchen) There were two schemes put out. The first one I thought sounded quite good but the second one I could not understand, it was quite complicated. Ian?
  (Mr Fielding) To be perfectly honest, I am not sure I fully understand it but—


  62. If you stay long enough somebody will explain it from Dixons, I am sure.
  (Mr Fielding) The lead authority approach is being proposed in conjunction with another one based on the use of recycling credits. To have a lead authority, as I understand it, means that it would be on a voluntary basis. Without detailed knowledge of what is being proposed I find it difficult to understand anyone volunteering to take on more of a problem than they have already got unless there are some significant advantages in doing that. As I say, I do not know all the details. The other scheme to do with recycling credits is one that I know more about and I find more comfort in, not because it is recycling credits because personally I do not agree with recycling credits and the organisation I referred to earlier lobby against them, but by the by the use of recycling credits might be a way of bringing finance back to the retailers' scheme through local authorities to help undertake that. I referred to earlier discussions and in fact there was a proposal at that meeting I referred to on 14 September last year that recycling credits be explored and it is still, I believe, the right option.

Mr Mitchell

  63. Are either of those schemes going anywhere? Is anything being done or have they just been put on the table and left?
  (Cllr Twitchen) They are out for consultation at the moment with local authorities. We are working very, very actively with Michael Meacher and DEFRA to try and work out a protocol and that work is going on on a daily basis but it is not easy. One thing that I think is a priority is that members of the public should be restored to a situation where if they buy a new fridge the old one disappears. It used to be taken out of the door by the man who brought the new one in. I think the public are very confused by all this and whatever we do we need to get back to that situation so you get stability as far as the public are concerned. The buck will stop with the local authorities. We are going to have to accept responsibility as waste disposal authorities for the disposal because they are household waste. It is what happens in between that, how do we get it from the house back into the hands of the local authority in an economic and environmentally sustainable way. We are also trying to factor back into the system the capacity for the refurbishers to cherry pick the fridges because one thing that we have glossed over is that under the old system people like Remploy could come in at some stage in the process and take the good ones away to their workshops, refurbish them, tart them up a bit and sell them. It was cheap, reliable appliances for people who could not afford to buy new and it was also a very good training programme in certain areas of the country. That has all been lost and that is something we are trying to get back into the system. I hope that the retailers will take back the fridges from the people who buy new and on their way to the local authorities there will be an opportunity for the refurbish people to get back into the game. The final storage and disposal is going to be the responsibility of local authorities, we all accept that. The challenge is to find a way of managing it which keeps track of it which makes sure that none of them disappear out of the system for inappropriate disposal and also make sure that the payments reach the person who has had to bear the cost.

  64. The local authorities are responsible for collection or whatever, for final receipt in their area, but does the idea of a lead authority for final disposal have any attraction to local authorities? Would people come forward as lead authorities?
  (Cllr Twitchen) We are out for consultation, we have not got the responses back. I can only speak of my impression from the people I have spoken to, which is we are asking local authorities to come forward and volunteer to be the lead but why the heck should they?

  65. Could they make money out of it?
  (Cllr Twitchen) Yes, maybe, but where is the money going to come from? There is only one place it can come from and that is the Government or the Council Tax payer and most waste disposal authorities, which are generally speaking the counties and the groups of the Met, would be the right vehicle to be the lead authority. We have sent all of this out to every local authority in the country with a very tight timescale but we have not yet had their responses back so we cannot tell you what they think about it.

Diana Organ

  66. This lead authority scheme from Dixons, do you not think it is a bit of a cheek really for them to come forward with this? In the past you said quite rightly that people went out, they bought a new fridge and the old one was taken back by the retailer. That quickly went out of the door in November/December when they realised what it was going to mean and now they are saying "we have got this bright scheme, local authorities, how you can deal with it because we are walking out backwards". You said the money has to come from somewhere, from local authorities or Government, but why can it not come from the industry? Why have they walked out on this? Previously they were happy to flog somebody a new fridge out of Currys, Dixons or whatever and now they do not want to touch them, do they?
  (Cllr Twitchen) I regarded the activity of take-back as part of their advertising/promotion budget. It was one of the things that got people through the door, so it does seem unfortunate that now all the responsibility is falling back on the taxpayer. That is the limit of the comment I would like to make on that, if you will allow me.

Mr Mitchell

  67. You mentioned the fridge disposal equipment that will be operating in June.
  (Cllr Twitchen) Two plants should be operating by June, an EMR one which is in North London and Sims Metals on the South Coast. I might have got them the wrong way round.

  68. Why has it taken so long to set them up?
  (Cllr Twitchen) It is very quick. These guys had the appropriate sites with the right transport infrastructure and so on but they have got to get the plant from Germany, it is not made in this country, and get it assembled and the factory built and all the stuff up and running and it has got to be licensed by the Environment Agency. The specification for the plant has only been issued by DEFRA in the last few weeks. I think it is quite good really that they are doing it that quickly.

  69. Can local authorities do anything to speed things up?
  (Cllr Twitchen) Local authorities can issue planning consents. If a plant needs planning permission, that is one way that local authorities can try and make sure that there are no delays within the planning system. I would not talk about escalating it because the planning system is a legal system in this country and it needs to be adhered to, but we can try and make sure there are no unnecessary delays.

  70. That is two plants. Are there going to be more?
  (Cllr Twitchen) We will need about eight. A static plant has a 300,000 unit per year capacity, so we need about eight. Three eights are 24, that is 2.4 million. There is also some talk about bringing mobile plants over but I have to say to you that that is a slight red herring because the volumes that they deal with are quite small. They use them in Sweden and Norway in outlying remote towns and they take the plant there, run it for a few days to get rid of all the fridges and then move on to the next one. In terms of a country like the UK it is going to be a very, very marginal input. I estimate we need eight of these big plants.

  71. Even with eight how long will it take to clear the mountain?
  (Cllr Twitchen) Probably a year or two.

  Mr Mitchell: Eight will deal with the two million fridges and there is a backlog that you have got to catch up on.

Patrick Hall

  72. I have a quick point on existing capacity. I understand that there is existing capacity in Southampton which is a high temperature incinerater which burns the insulate within the fridges. That is what it does and it may be cruder than the ones we have seen in Germany. Do you know whether or not local authorities are making full use of that existing limited capacity?
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, I do not. I do know it is expensive and the capacity at Ellesmere Port is 5,000 units and the capacity at Fawley is 3,000, so that is 8,000 units, so this is not a significant volume in terms of the total capacity that is needed. I do not know for certain whether any local authorities have taken it up but I do know it is expensive. It may be that they are waiting for something that is more cost-effective to be available.

  73. It might be more expensive than the storage option?
  (Cllr Twitchen) Yes, more expensive than storage and ultimate disposal within the UK.
  (Mr Fielding) Southampton is within our area, not Southampton as a unitary authority but the Fawley plant is in our area. We have so far resisted any contract arrangements for the disposal of fridges pending notification on the funding. We simply do not know how much money we are going to get and we have not got any yet either. The view we have taken so far is that we will store and minimise our costs for a limited period and keep the situation under review. Having said that, we were made aware of another option for export last week which we are now pursuing because it is significantly cheaper than the prices we have been quoted for processing in the UK.

Paddy Tipping

  74. You mentioned Germany twice. Why are they better and more advanced in Germany than here?
  (Cllr Twitchen) The German Government brought in this legislation, I understand, some years ago. German waste management practice has been to adopt this system for some time, so they have already got the kit up and running. There is also a fair amount of importing into Germany from other mainland European countries. It is an industry, it is part of their recycling industry.

  75. It is not just Germany, it is Germany, Austria, Sweden. It does make us look a bit look the "dirty man in Europe", does it not?
  (Cllr Twitchen) There are plenty of other countries—

  76. Germany, Austria, Sweden.
  (Cllr Twitchen) Yes, but there are other European countries that are not getting to grips with the situation in the way that we are, so I do not think that we should be ashamed. We have got a bit of catching up to do but we do recognise it now and we are catching up. I think the British waste industry will be putting plants in that we can be proud of in terms of the environmental impact.

  77. Whose fault was this cock-up or fiasco? Where would you point the finger of blame?

  (Cllr Twitchen) Substantially with the Government, but not entirely. A lot of us can learn some lessons from this. I have to say I think it was substantially DEFRA's/the Government's responsibility to understand the implications. Even those of us who knew about the Regulation did not fully understand the implications. It has been a very steep learning curve and the one thing I hope and I believe that we can learn from this is that we all need to be more aware of the potential for these problems and this must not happen again. We must understand what is in the pipeline in terms of environmental or any other legislation and see these problems coming and deal with them appropriately in good time.

  78. Germany, Austria and elsewhere, their governments could see this coming, they understood the regulations and our Government did not understand the regulations. They signed up for something where they did not know the consequences?
  (Cllr Twitchen) I suppose so, yes.


  79. Can I ask you one small but important point. In the conclusion of your evidence you say: "Most civic amenity sites are not licensed to take hazardous wastes, and will therefore require licence modification." What is involved in that because I presume if somebody with more fridges turn up at a civic amenity sites, somebody might say, "Hang on a minute, we cannot have these there." What needs to be sorted out there and who does it?
  (Cllr Twitchen) The Environment Agency are responsible for the licensing regime in waste management. The fact they are allowing reasonable numbers of fridges to be taken from households on a day-by-day basis is an example of how they are being reasonable and flexible.

  80. Perhaps, Mr Fielding, you can help us. Are they monitoring already the way the safe storage of refrigerators is being carried out?
  (Ms Walters) Yes, we have had inspections from the Environment Agency.

  Chairman: Thank you both very much indeed. If there is anything further that you wanted to put before the Committee, particularly in written form, please do not hesitate to write to us. Mr Fielding, you are going to send us some copies of correspondence. We look forward to receiving that. The one thing we cannot do is undo anything you have said that you might subsequently wish to take back or retract. Thank you both very much indeed for coming to the Committee. When you have vacated the chairs and we have changed the names we can have the retailers who will supply all the answers to the questions that you posed and one or two that we pose as well. Thank you very much.

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